Category Archives: Jane


The book proposal

I know, I know, I have blogged before about doing a book proposal and how important it is.  But, it seems from what I am seeing recently that I am not getting through.

In the last couple of months, I find that clients are really rushing to get their proposals ready.  In doing so, they are making mistakes – both large and small – and ultimately prolonging the process of creating this very important document.

Book proposals really are the backbone of the non-fiction publishing process.  They identify an idea, discuss who the reader will be for that idea, both demographically and statistically, and discuss other titles which would be comparable, in terms of audience, to the one the author is proposing.

Proposals provide a structure for the book and demonstrate (with a sample chapter) the author’s writing ability.

Finally, with a bio and links of supporting material, the proposal highlights the author’s credentials and platform.

I tell my clients that doing the proposal is probably more difficult than writing the actual book but that once they have a proposal that a publisher wants to buy, they will have the blueprint for their book.

I also tell them “better late than lousy” and I mean that because a poorly constructed and written proposal will not sell in this challenging market.

So, take your time in creating your book proposal.  Think it through carefully and consider every element.  Taking the necessary time to do this right is important and will ultimately pay off.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.  Let me know what you think.


A case for military books

I have always had a healthy appetite for military books because they sell.  Books—both fiction and non-fiction—about the Civil War, and the two world wars sell particularly well.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to browse in a bookstore in Quantico, Virginia—where the FBI is based and where marine officers receive their first qualification and training.  I found the range of titles they carry very interesting.

I was at Quantico because my son was graduating from Officer Candidate School in the Marines and, in fact, he and his classmates had read many of the books (though obviously not all) that I found below:

There were books like this one about policy: IMG_2366


Reference books: IMG_2367


Children’s books: download


Related titles for women: 51ZLJlvzBHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Books by bestselling authors: TheGunsatLastLight


Books about leadership: IMG_2371


Books to improve our intellect and make us think:  FotorCreated


And bestselling fiction: IMG_2375

(Interestingly Battle Cry is a book that my father both edited and published.)

All of this underlines the fact that books about military subjects hold a real fascination for the reading public.  Now that my son is an officer, it’s a category I will follow more closely.  What are your favorite military titles?




Why it’s sometimes best to work with a collaborator

People often ask me why the need for a collaborator and my answer is very simple—to make the work they are creating better and more saleable. (Here, by the way, I am mainly talking about non-fiction.)

Collaborators—especially those with experience—help the author, especially at the proposal stage, focus their idea and on exactly how they want to organize the message they want their book to deliver.

Collaborators can also bring out aspects of the book that the author hadn’t even considered including.

Collaborators, because they are paid a flat fee or have a percentage of the project, are dedicated to the work of producing both a proposal and a manuscript in an efficient and timely manner.  This is often something the author (especially first time authors) working alone is unable to do.

Finally, the author, if he or she wants to and is interested in writing subsequent books, can learn a great deal from the collaboration and then go on to write their own books down the line.

I would love to know your thoughts on the benefits of using a collaborator, so bring them on.


How long should it take me to write my novel?

Over the weekend, I finished a remarkable first novel.  The author had taken many years to complete this work and, in the end, I think the time it took her to do so has paid off (of course, only the marketplace will tell).

Thinking about this – the time it takes a writer to finish a book – brought to mind how different each writer’s process is.  I found this very interesting piece on the subject in the Huffington Post.

I have clients who take many years to finish their novels, much like the writer whose work I read this weekend.   Then, there are those who actually ask for deadlines (from me) by when they should have their next manuscript completed.  And then, of course, there are those who can conceptualize their stories and write them down much much faster.

In the end, there is no right answer to how long it should take a writer to complete his/her manuscript.  It is what works for each individual.  I find it’s best not to compare your process to others’. Do what feels right for you.

I am curious to hear what you think about the subject.  Let me know.


Panel etiquette

Over the years, I have been asked to participate on a number of panels.  Some of the experiences have been very positive—I have learned a lot and met some really terrific people.  Some of them, however, have  been…less than perfect.

In order to understand exactly how a panel should proceed, I went on Google (but, of course) and found some good advice.   When things go smoothly, everyone has a good time.  Sadly, that’s not always the case.

A while back I was asked to be a part of a panel on the state of self-publishing.  Having a lot to say on the subject (and I thought a good amount of knowledge as well), I agreed.  Everything began positively,  but then one of the participants simply hijacked the proceedings and took over the discussion.  Soon, the panel moderator lost all control.  At the time, I vowed never to repeat that experience.

Last year, I moderated a panel, chose the participants and presided over a lively session.  That experience  was a good one.  I very briefly introduced myself and then each of the participants and made sure that each of them contributed equally to the discussion.  It was, I thought, very successful and I think the audience learned a great deal—and we all enjoyed ourselves.

Over the weekend, I again participated on a publishing panel.  This time, the moderator not only took far too long to relate her own story, but then interrupted me and the others in mid-speech. Everyone in the audience noticed and even commented on this afterward.  Her behavior was offensive and disrespectful and, because of this, I was unable to fully enjoy this particular event.

Panels are meant to inform and teach.  Moderators should use their position to control each speaker and support them and to move things along, not as a bully pulpit.  I think after this last experience (combined with some of my previous ones), I will limit the panels in which I participate in the future.  We publishing folks do these things in our free time and they take us away from other important activities.   I would much rather “teach”  and learn than be diminished by someone who either deliberately or through ignorance doesn’t follow the etiquette of panel participation.

What has your experience been as a participant in panels or audience member?


Going back a ways…

Last week, I received this lovely message from one of my long term clients, “Do you realize next September we will have been working together for 15 years?  I am blessed.”

And I realized just how many of our clients have been with us for many many  years. For instance:

Gus Lee, author of several novels, including his bestselling CHINA BOY, and the recently published non-fiction, WITH SCHWARZKOPF, has been a friend and a client since 1989.

Thomas French the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of the still-in-print UNANSWERED CRIES has been with us since 1989 as well.  He and his wife Kelley are publishing a book next year about the birth of their very premature daughter titled THE ZERO ZONE.

Lorene Cary, author of both non-fiction­, BLACK ICE, and fiction, THE PRICE OF A CHILD, among others has actually been with the agency since 1988.

The great Mary Doria Russell has been a client since the 1990s and her latest, EPITAPH, is making a number of “best of the year” lists.

Interestingly, there are many long term clients whom, for one reason or another, I have not actually met—but we are in constant communication, and I feel like they are “family”.

The point of all of this is that we all have experienced through these long alliances the value of continuity.  In a business that has gone through and continues to see major upheavals, it is these ongoing connections that provide new opportunities and enrich our professional (and personal) lives.

I look forward to many more years of continuing these important and treasured relationships and establishing new ones.


Holiday gifting

Because of what I do, I generally don’t buy books as holiday gifts.  Frankly, I find it too difficult—there are so many to choose from.  This year, though, I thought I would try to select some that family and friends would enjoy.

But what should I be considering?  Their interests? Their reading taste?  Perhaps I should pick books that I would want to read.  In the end, I chose the latter, simply because that is always the way I buy gifts—I buy others what I would want for myself.  I so enjoy doing that.

So, here is a list of ten books—all published in 2015—that I think might make great gifts.  My one disclaimer is that I haven’t chosen books that I represent for the obvious reason: I think they are all pretty fantastic, and I couldn’t possibly single out ten.  So, here goes:


City of Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (Knopf)

God Help the Child  by Toni Morrison (Knopf)

Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon (Atria)

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin (Farrar, Strauss)

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead)


Guantánamo DiaryDaughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back by Janice P. Nimura (Norton)

Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedo Ould Slahi (Little Brown)

Jonas Salk: A Life by Charlotte de Croes (Oxford University Press)

Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel by Dan Ephron (Pantheon)

The 613 by Archie Rand (Blue Ridge Press)

All of these are books I would love to read (in fact I have only read one). How do you choose the books you will give as holiday gifts and what are you planning to give?


Thanksgiving is here again

I cannot believe that Thanksgiving is here already. The last year seems to have raced by with many, many changes in my life. Usually, at this time of year, my husband and I spend the holiday in Florida visiting his family and our friends. This year, however, my father-in-law Sam Schwinder and my old and close friend Rena Wolner (a former head of Pocket Books, Berkley, and Avon) passed away and so we will be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner around our dinner table here in Manhattan along with my daughter, my son, my son-in-law and my two adorable grandchildren. I will think about Sam and Rena on that day, as I am very thankful for having had the chance to know, love, and learn from them.

I am also incredibly thankful for so many other things: the talented, brilliant, funny people on my staff (we are now 14 strong), my wonderful clients, my colleagues at the many publishing houses and other agencies we do business with. My business partner Miriam Goderich helps me run our company and think through the numerous issues we face every day. She is the best editor I have ever worked with and a stabilizing force in a world that has lots of highs and lows. I am so grateful to her. My daughter Jessica Toonkel is a talented reporter with Reuters and a superb partner to her husband Brian and mother to her children, eight-year-old Elena and almost-two-year-old Leo. I am incredibly proud of her. My son, Zachary Schwinder who is about to enter Officer Candidate School for the Marines—I am both frightened for his safety and oh so proud of his goal to keep our country safe. My kind and wonderful husband and partner Steve who is by my side through thick and thin and has been since I met him almost 30 years ago—I am so very grateful for him and his love.
I encourage each of you to think about those things and people you are grateful for at this time of year. And, if you like, I would love you to tell me what they are.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. May it be filled with peace and everything delicious!



Amazon is entering the real (vs. virtual) world

Amazon StoreSo the news last week was that Amazon has opened its first brick and mortar bookstore—this one is in Seattle where the company has its headquarters.  Twenty years after Amazon began as a website selling books (and before they were pushing lawnmowers and groceries), this could be an exciting beginning for those who love to browse in actual bookstores.

Evidently, most of the books in this new store are displayed cover out which could be seductive to consumers because titles will be easier to find.  The other thing that is interesting here is that it was announced that the books will be the same retail price in the store as they are online (where merchandise is usually discounted).

Given the fact that Borders went out several years ago leaving a huge gap in the print bookstore business and that Barnes & Noble seems to be floundering, this is very good news—for consumers and  for publishers.  Hopefully, this new venture will be so successful that Amazon which, after all, began in the book business will expand their  bookstores  to other cities in the years ahead.  One can only hope.

I’d be curious, though, to know what you think of this new development.


Uncovering ideas for books

One of the things most agents do is come up with ideas for books, and we come up with them in a bunch of different places.

HOTHOUSEThe first example of a book idea I just stumbled upon was a story I came across in the New York Times Obituaries a number of years ago.  Robert Giroux, one of the founders of Farrar, Straus and Giroux had died and the piece written about him was filled with colorful stories and  characters.  I immediately thought there was a book about the publishing business in that era and I approached Boris Kachka, who agreed to write it.  Boris made the idea his own, of course, and the result was HOTHOUSE: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art in America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House Farrar Straus.

DON'T PEEA number of years ago now, I was watching 60 Minutes (which I do every week) and I saw a family court judge profiled who was incredibly colorful, opinionated and somewhat outrageous.  I found out how to reach that judge and suggested she write a book.  That became DON’T PEE ON MY LEG AND TELL ME IT’S RAINING and the author became television’s beloved Judge Judy.

Then, last year when I vacationed in Kenya, I learned about how various animals are disappearing and I approached a science writer to do a book that might be titled THE WORLD WITHOUT ANIMALS.

I have found many true crime book ideas in the pages of People magazine or in the newspaper. One of the most recent LOST GIRLSand a book that is doing very well is THE LOST GIRLS by John Glatt, about the three young women who were imprisoned in a house in Cleveland for ten years.

Three years ago I went to Florence on vacation and learned for the first time of the great flood in the 1950s that threatened to destroy all of the city’s incredible art and how people came from all over the world to help save it.  While in Rome on that same trip, I met a journalist who is now working on a book about this fascinating event.

Finding ideas is like discovering treasure.  We are always looking for them wherever we go.  I wonder where you get your book ideas and whether you would like to tell me about them.  Maybe we will uncover something new together.